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Norwegian biathlete Emil Hegle Svendsen triumphed in a thrilling men’s 15km mass start to deny France’s Martin Fourcade a third gold medal at Sochi 2014. As the two men recorded the same time of 49 minutes 29.1 seconds, it needed a photo-finish decision to determine the top two spots on the podium. Czech biathlete Ondrej Moravec came in 13.8 seconds later to claim the bronze.
Within the space of a few crucial seconds as the race at the Laura Cross Country Ski & Biathlon Centre reached its climax, Svendsen galvanised what had thus far been a lacklustre Games for him.
The Norwegian and Frenchman both took the snowy conditions in their stride to serve up a mesmerising contest in which the suspense was maintained until the final second.
The race had twice been rescheduled due to adverse weather conditions, but when it finally came it was well worth the wait. For his part, Fourcade knew he stood 15km from making French sporting history with a chance to equal the record of three Olympic golds set by former Alpine skier and current IOC member Jean-Claude Killy.
Meanwhile, for Svendsen, Fourcade’s regular foe on the Biathlon World Cup circuit, the mass start represented a chance to turn his Games around. And that is precisely what he did.
“I had some problems with my skis at the start of the Games, but I’m back now where I belong,” said a defiant Norwegian, after sealing a momentous victory.
Going into the mass start, Svendsen was the only one of the biathlon’s recognised heavyweights not to have made it onto the podium, having come ninth in the sprint, to go with two seventh place finishes in the individual and the 20km.
But he stepped up to the plate, summoning all of his power, skill and experience, to put those disappointments firmly behind him.
Going into the last leg of the ski after the final visit to the shooting range, the Norwegian was closely tracked by Fourcade and Moravec.
Svendsen’s end-game was ruthlessly effective. First he dispensed with the Czech challenge, launching a powerful attack on the last hill which broke Moravec’s resistance.
Fourcade, meanwhile, only just avoided a fall to stay on the Norwegian’s heels, as the two men engaged in a neck-and-neck battle over the final stretch.
With the finish line in their sights, Svendsen then posed a question to which the Frenchman had no response. Managing to overtake Fourcade over the last metre, the latter desperately thrust out his left ski in a last attempt to cross the line first.
“I thought I had things under control, but when I saw the result of the photo finish, it seems I didn’t have things so under control,” admitted Svendsen.
“When I saw the photo-finish I was surprised to see how close it was. But I knew I was first, » he added.
Meanwhile the previously invincible Fourcade accepted that he could have no complaints with second place on this occasion.
“I’m very happy to win this medal,” said the Frenchman, gesturing towards his silver. “I was well beaten.
“It’s a shame to lose my title by such a small distance. I’d have loved to complete the triple, and I felt I had the legs for it. But I’m delighted for Emil, who was not having a great Games up until now.”
The Frenchman made it clear that, with two events still to come in the men’s biathlon, he would be more determined than ever to reassert the upper hand.
“I wanted to show him who’s the boss,” he added. “But we still have two relays left…”